Driving vision: what you need to know

woman driving with glasses

Danny Baggs

Posted February 29, 2024

Good eyesight is essential for safe driving, especially in challenging conditions like bright sun glare and darkness. Here’s what you need to know about vision when it comes to driving.

Even minor vision loss can potentially affect your driving – but the good news is that about 90 per cent of vision loss is preventable or treatable if identified early, according to Australia’s peak eye health and vision care body Vision 20/20 Australia.

If you need new glasses to stay safe on the road, RACV Members save on optical and eyewear, including 25 per cent off lenses and lens extras when purchased as a complete pair (with frames) from 18 March - 3 April 2024.*

Eyesight and driving: what you need to know

Why is driving vision important?

You need good vision to drive safely. Good sight is essential for reading road signs, spotting potential hazards like pedestrians, judging gaps between moving vehicles, or identifying which colour the traffic lights are displaying.

On the other hand, poor vision can impair your ability to safely merge, change lanes, or respond to hazards in time. That’s why Australian drivers must meet certain eyesight standards to hold a valid driver licence.

"Some eye conditions may not show any symptoms in the early stages," OPSM Optometrist Kirby Phillips warns. "Regular eye checks help minimise vision loss through early detection."

What are the Australian eyesight standards for driving?

The Australian eyesight standards for driving, which are managed by Austroads, have changed slightly. The two main eyesight standards for driving a private (non-commercial) car or motorcycle are now:

  • Visual acuity (distance vision) – 6/12 or better in both eyes

  • Visual fields (peripheral vision) – at least 110 degrees.

These standards are stricter for commercial vehicles, buses and heavy trucks.

Most people who don’t meet the eyesight standards for driving must wear prescription glasses or contact lenses from a trusted provider like OPSM. They will be issued a conditional driver licence that notes that their sight is impaired and that they must wear their corrective visual aids to drive.

Other visual impairments, like poor night vision or diplopia (double vision), may require extra tests and regular reviews to confirm your eligibility for a conditional driver licence.


woman driving car with man as passengers. she is wearing sunglasses; he is wearing glasses

Good vision is important for safe driving. Image: Getty

Driving, eyesight and the sun: what you need to know

Why should I wear sunglasses while driving?

It’s very important to protect your eyes from the sun. "Sustained UV rays can cause irreversible damage to our eyes," Phillips explains. "They can reflect off surfaces including water, sand and snow. UV damage has been associated with cataracts and conjunctival changes. It’s important to wear quality sunglasses to help protect your eyes."

Luckily, SunSmart reports that wearing both a broad-brim hat and sunglasses can reduce UV rays to the eyes by up to 98 per cent. You should wear them whenever you’re outside during daylight hours, as even cloudy weather lets through UV rays. If you drive long distances or work outdoors, such as on a farm or a construction site, you will be exposed to UV rays more than the average person and should always wear sunglasses outside.

How do I avoid glare while driving?

Driving during bright, sunny days is difficult for some drivers who may be sensitive to glare.

"Polarised sunglasses reduce the glare that bounces off surfaces like the road, water and oncoming traffic," Phillips says. "This provides enhanced clarity to significantly reduce the glare from hitting your eyes."

What are the best sunglasses?

SunSmart advises choosing a close-fitting, wrap-around style of sunglasses – whether they are prescription sunglasses or not. 

"Not all sunglasses are created equal," Phillips says. "When buying sunglasses, the Australian Standards make it easy to choose. Look for a pair of sunglasses with a lens category of at least 2, which should be clearly displayed on tag of the sunglasses."

SunSmart recommends choosing sunglasses marked as Category 2 or 3 under the Australian Standard for eye protection (AS/NZ1067), because they all absorb more than 95 per cent of UV radiation and are approved for safe driving.

Some sunglasses will also or only list an Eye Protection Factor (EPF). Ratings of 9 or 10 block most UV radiation, exceeding the Australian Standard requirements.

Can children wear sunglasses?

"Children should definitely wear sunglasses when they are outside," Phillips says. "Unlike adult eyes, children’s eyes are still growing and cannot filter harmful UV light as effectively."

Just make sure than any sunglasses for babies and toddlers have a soft elastic band or another style that stays on securely so that the arms don’t become a choking hazard.

If your small child refuses to wear sunglasses, putting a broad-brim hat on them and staying in the shade will help protect their eyes.


optometrist testing a patient's vision with a machine

You should regularly get your vision checked by a professional. Image: OPSM

Eye health

How often should I get my eyes checked?

You should get your eyes checked at least every two years. If you are over 65 years old or have diabetes, you should get your eyes checked yearly. Your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist may also recommend that you have eyesight checks more frequently.

Eye tests are an early warning system for vision loss and eye disease, many of which have no symptoms in their early stages. Regular eyesight check-ups can help save your sight by catching vision issues early. This is especially important when you are over 40 years old, as this when vision is more likely to deteriorate.

How do I keep my eyes healthy?

The best thing you can do for your eyes is to have regular eye checks with an optometrist and to wear any prescribed glasses or contact lenses. You can also help keep your eyes healthy by wearing a hat and sunglasses when outside to protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. And whenever you perform a hazardous task – for example, metal welding or laboratory experiments – make sure to wear the appropriate eye protection.

The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) recommends that you follow the 20/20/20 rule when using computer or TV screens to minimise the effects of digital eye strain. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet (six metres) away for 20 seconds to give your eyes a screen break, which helps avoid eye strain and headaches. The IAPB also reports that children who spend at least two hours a day outside helps their eyes to develop healthily and avoid near-sightedness (myopia).

Like many medical conditions, some of the best ways to prevent vision loss and eye disease are to quit smoking, eat healthy and exercise regularly. "Eat well and exercise," Phillips recommends. "A diet rich in antioxidants and omega oils is great for your eyes. Try snacking on fruit, nuts and eating fish or eggs a couple of times per week. Certain eye conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy can be associated with lack of physical exercise. Adding a walk to your daily routine may be beneficial for both your eye and mental health."

If you have diabetes, managing your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels will also help stave off eyesight degeneration.


man driving tractor wearing sunglasses and hat

Outdoor workers should wear sunglasses and a broad-brim hat. Image: Getty

Why has my vision deteriorated?

Vision tends to deteriorate as you get older. In fact, Vision Initiative estimates that the number of people affected by vision loss triples with each decade over the age of 40. That’s because the lens inside your eye becomes less elastic with age, which makes it harder to focus on close objects.

Most vision loss is because of five main conditions.

Refractive error

Refractive error is the most common eye disorder, where your eyes can’t clearly focus on close-by objects (hyperopia), far-away objects (myopia), or written words (presbyopia). 

Refractive error changes are often gradual, worsen over time, and can affect people of all ages – although presbyopia is more common in people over 40. The disorder is generally corrected by glasses or contact lenses as prescribed by your optometrist. Regular eye tests will keep track of any further deterioration.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

AMD creates blind spots in the centre of your vision, which significantly impairs your driving ability. As the name suggests, it’s a disease heavily associated with ageing, with your risk tripling with every decade you age after 40. Macular Disease Foundation Australia estimates that one in seven Australians over the age of 50 years have some evidence of AMD. A range of treatment options exist, but AMD must be detected early via regular eye exams to help limit vision loss.


Glaucoma is type of eye disease that damages the optic nerve, leading to vision loss that often starts with your peripheral (side) vision. It is usually so gradual that only half of Australians with glaucoma know they have it, according to Vision Initiative.

Pople aged 40 or over are more at risk, with people aged over 70 three times more likely to develop glaucoma than those aged 40. Treatment options exist to slow the rate of vision loss so you can maintain vision throughout life. Regular eye exam complete with an optic nerve check and eye pressure check can diagnose glaucoma before vision loss.


Cataracts slowly cloud the lens inside your eye, eventually resulting in blurred vision that may not improve with prescription glasses. People with cataracts may also be more sensitive to bright lights, such as headlights when driving at night, or notice that colours appear more yellow or brown.

Most cataracts are a result of ageing and long-term exposure to UV light. By wearing sunglasses and a broad brim hat outdoors, you can reduce your risk of getting cataracts. Regular eye tests can also detect early cataract formations. Once cataracts worsen, a common and very safe surgery can be performed by an ophthalmologist that replaces the cloudy lens with a new synthetic lens.

Diabetic retinopathy

Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can cause diabetic retinopathy: an eye disease that affects the retina’s blood vessels at the back of your eye and eventually causes patchy vision loss. All diabetics are at risk, but carefully controlled diabetes, a healthy diet and an active lifestyle reduces the risk.

It’s very important to have eye exams with a retina check every one to two years if you are diagnosed with diabetes, especially because there are often no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Vision Initiative reports that early detection and treatment can prevent about 98 per cent of severe vision loss caused by diabetic retinopathy.


older man with glasses squinting at his phone

People over 40 are more at risk of eye disease. Image: Getty

What are some common changes to vision to look out for?

"Loss of peripheral or side vision can be a common symptom indicating a greater underlying eye condition," Phillips warns. "Other symptoms such as seeing halos around lights or increased sensitivity to light are also indicators you should get an eye test."

You are more likely to experience changes in your vision as you get older. Visit an optometrist for an eyesight test if you notice:

  • reduced visual acuity (fuzzier vision)

  • reduced peripheral vision (seeing less out of the corner of your eyes)

  • reduced depth perception (struggling to know how far away objects are)

  • reduced colour differentiation (unable to easily identify similar colours)

  • reduced night vision (harder to see at night or recover quickly from headlight glare).

Many of these issues can be solved with visual aids like glasses or contact lenses. If you already wear glasses or lenses, they may simply need adjusting. Your optometrist can also check for eye diseases and inform you whether your vision still meets Australian driving standards.

What’s wrong with ready-made glasses?

Ready-made glasses are a stop-gap measure that won’t help your vision problems as much as true prescription glasses or eye disease management.

"Not wearing the correct prescription can have a significant impact on your daily lifestyle," Phillips says. "For example, if your reading glasses are too strong, this may cause headaches and eyestrain. An optometrist will also consider factors like the position of your eyes, the distance between your pupils and the fit of the frames, which can also impact your vision and eye comfort."

If you have or need ready-made glasses, it’s time to make an eye exam appointment.


woman being fitted for glasses

Prescription glasses suit your visual needs. Image: Getty

Guide to getting your eyes checked

How do I book an eye exam?

You can book an eye test directly with a qualified optometrist, with no referral needed from a doctor. You can generally book an appointment with the optometry clinic online, over the phone, or in person.

How much does an eye test cost?

Eye tests are usually covered by Medicare, with rebates available for most eye examinations. Make sure to check with your optometrist when booking whether they offer bulk-billing eye tests, or whether there will be any out-of-pocket costs to you.


woman getting her eyes tested

Regular eye exams can detect early symptoms of eye conditions. Image: Getty

What happens during a vision check for driving?

"In a driver vision assessment, your optometrist will assess your visual acuity and peripheral vision," Phillps explains. "If you have an existing ocular health condition, you may be required to undergo further peripheral vision testing using a visual field machine. Your optometrist can provide a certificate stating that your vision is satisfactory for driving."

OPSM offers free driver oscreenings for RACV Members where Medicare benefits are not payable.*

What happens during a regular vision check-up?

Eye tests performed by an optometrist or other eye health professional will generally include the same common tests. These may include:

  • Exterior eye health exam – the outside of your eye will be examined for health concerns and your pupil’s reaction to light may be tested using a small torch

  • Interior eye health exam – a slit lamp will be used to allow the optometrist to check the inside of your eye, like the cornea, iris, lens and anterior chamber, for any health concerns.

  • Eye movement and cover tests – the optometrist will check the strength and muscle control of your eyes by asking you to move them in certain directions, both one at a time and together. This checks for conditions like strabismus (cross eyes).

  • Visual acuity test – you will be asked to identify letters, symbols or shapes in a variety of sizes without visual aids like glasses or contact lenses. This test determines whether you have a refractive error and (if so) the precise prescription for the lenses you’ll need to see clearly.

Your eye health professional may conduct a few extra tests depending on your eye health, family history or symptoms, including:

  • Retinal test – the back of your eye (retina, retinal blood vessels, vitreous, optic nerve head) may be examined by dilating your pupils with eye drops and looking at your eye through instruments to identify certain eye conditions like macular degeneration, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy.

  • Eye pressure test – your eye pressure may be tested by blowing a puff of air into it and measuring it response, which can help identify glaucoma.

  • Visual field test – your field of vision may be tested by holding objects at different places around your visual field to identify patches or areas of vision loss from conditions like glaucoma.


optometrist checking an elderly man's vision

Eye health professionals perform a number of tests to check your eye health. Image: Getty

Are spectacles and sunglasses expensive?

Spectacles, contact lenses and sunglasses range in price depending on brand and vision correction needs. They are not covered by Medicare, but private health insurance can partially or completely cover their cost.

RACV Members get 25 per cent off lenses and lens extras when purchased as a complete pair (with frames) from 18 March - 3 April 2024.*

What happens if I don’t meet the driving standards for eyesight?

If you don't meet the Australian driving standards for eyesight, your eye health professional will let you know how to best manage your eyesight condition.

"You may still be eligible for a conditional license," Phillips says. "Your optometrist or ophthalmologist will take into the account the nature of your condition and your driving requirements. There are also many fantastic support organisations such as Vision Australia to help people with low vision."

After your appointment, you must notify VicRoads immediately. You can be fined for neglecting to report your sight conditions. VicRoads may then add a condition to your driver’s licence, such as that you must wear corrective lenses when driving or that you may only drive during daylight hours.


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*25 per cent off lenses and lens extras for Auto Club members when purchased as a complete pair (with frames) from 18 March - 3 April 2043. Present your Auto Club card to redeem offer.  T&Cs apply. See OPSM staff for details.

**T&Cs apply, please see in-store for details. OPSM recommends that you schedule regular visits with your optometrist based on your eye health needs.